Microsoft dropped a bombshell today. It is open-sourcing Windows Bridge for iOS, and Android isn't far behind. The long-term goal here is simple: get more apps onto the Windows platform. Microsoft believes going open source is the way to get it done.
Windows Bridge for iOS is intended to help iOS developers create Windows apps using their existing Objective-C code. It has four main avenues to do this: Objective-C compiler, Objective-C runtime, iOS API headers/libs, and Visual Studio IDE integration. These four packages will help developers walk their app across the bridge from iOS to Windows.
"Our goal with the iOS bridge has never been simply to run iOS apps on Windows," said Salmaan Ahmed, Program Manager, Windows Bridge for iOS. "Rather, our goal is to help you write great Windows apps that use as much of your existing code and knowledge as possible. We will, of course, continue to work to expand our iOS compatibility, but it’s important to note that there is much more you can do with the bridge."
Microsoft said it relied on three core principles in creating the bridge. It offers full Windows API access, which Microsoft says makes it easy to use Windows APIs within Objective-C. iOS compatibility lets developers reuse existing code. Moreover, no sandboxing means iOS and Windows APIs should be able to work together. These tenets were necessary in order to develop a functional bridge, according to Microsoft.
Windows Bridge for iOS was first revealed as Project Islandwood during Microsoft's Build conference in April. Windows Bridge for Android is in the works, too. The idea here is to convince developers to write for Windows by providing a path of least resistance. Developers have already created millions of apps for Apple's iOS and Google's Android platforms, and Microsoft needs all the help it can get to encourage developer engagement (make sure to check out our recent coverage on whether Windows 10 will Win Developers Back To Microsoft). In light of this, Windows needs all the apps it can get. Allowing developers to reuse much of their existing code gives them more incentive to give it a shot.
"Microsoft’s move here illustrates that the only serious way to engage developers today is with open source," said Al Hilwa, Program Director, Software Development Research at IDC. "The Visual Studio team is clearly one of the lead groups at Microsoft in transforming how the giant works with open source. Releasing Rosalyn last year was the biggest step so far and this is one more milestone."
Hilwa claims the real aim here is to appeal to Objective C developers in general, which represents a sizable chunk of the app ecosystem as far as programming skills are concerned.
"With this move, Microsoft seems determined to engage app publishers and other ecosystem players in constructing the bridge itself," continued Hilwa. "This will expedite adoption."
Windows Bridge for iOS is being offered as a technical preview through GitHub. The can be used to build Windows 10 and Windows 8.1 apps on X84 and X64 architectures. MIcrosoft said support for ARM -- and WIndows Phone -- will arrive later this summer. The full version of Windows Bridge for iOS is expected to arrive in the fall. Microsoft said Windows Bridge for Android will probably arrive during the fall, as well.